Motherly Affection

But we were gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth her own children: even so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were become very dear to us (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8).

No one could ever accuse Paul of working in the Lord’s vineyard only for the money or just as a job or a way of passing time. He poured his heart and soul into the people who had heeded the Gospel he preached.

The Gospel was received by some in Thessalonica under a cloud of persecution and difficulties as seen in Acts 17:1-9. Within a few weeks Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica after he had heard the report regarding them by Timothy (1 Thessalonians 3:6-10). Paul has been explaining the circumstances under which he arrived in Thessalonica after leaving Philippi and how he preached to them the Gospel not for covetousness nor for seeking men’s glory but for the welfare of their souls (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6).

Mother and childHe appeals to how he treated them and compares his love for them to that of a nursing woman for the child she nurses, explaining that he became affectionately desirous of them, willing not only to proclaim to them the Gospel but to even give of his own life if need be (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). Paul loved the Christians in Thessalonica, and he expected them to understand as much.

Paul’s love and concern went well beyond the Christians of Thessalonica (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:28), yet the way he expresses his affection for the Thessalonians is extraordinary. The maternal image of the nursing woman expresses great care and concern and is probably not a little influenced by the relative youth of the Thessalonian Christians in the faith. Paul recognized the imperative given to him to preach the Gospel to everyone (1 Corinthians 9:22-23), but that never meant that he had to feel warmly toward any given group like he expressed to the Thessalonians. He developed genuine care and affection for the Christians in Thessalonica; he actually liked them and enjoyed being around them even though it was only for a short time.

We do well to note this love and concern and seek to find ways to feel similarly toward our fellow Christians. We are to be known for our love for one another (John 13:35); while it is true that such does not demand that we feel the “warm fuzzies” about every Christian we know we do well to be kindly disposed to one another and to have Christians in our lives regarding whom we could say that we felt tender affection. “Brother” and “sister” should not be mere titles or pretense but should express genuine brotherly and sisterly love for one another. Christians do well when they actually like one another and enjoy being in one another’s company!

We also should consider the nature of the relationship between Paul and the Thessalonian Christians: not only did they not know each other a few weeks or months before the writing of this letter, but also their relationship was forged in the preaching of and obedience to the Gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:2). We can therefore see how Paul treated those to whom he preached the Gospel: he did not keep them at a distance, as “prospects” or “clients,” but felt warmly toward them as a mother would her child, thus, as fellow family members (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). While parallels exist between marketing/sales and evangelism we ought not over-emphasize them; the church is not a business but the family of God (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15). Neither Jesus nor the Gospel are “products” to “sell” but the plea for the prodigal and the alienated to come home (cf. Luke 15:11-32). The goal of all evangelism is to lead those outside of Christ to Him so as to become His disciple (Matthew 28:18-19); if they heed the message and obey it our relationship has not ended but has in fact just begun (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28).

Paul loved the Thessalonian Christians tenderly. We ought to have a similar love for our fellow Christians and to seek to share in such relationships with even more people. Let us proclaim the Gospel in our lives so as to lead people to faith in Christ and to share in the household of God and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Will of God: Our Sanctification

For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye abstain from fornication (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

“What is God’s will for me in my life?”

Such a question, or a permutation thereof, is on the minds, hearts, and tongues of many sincere Christians. They, as we all, live in a world full of choices. When confronted with all sorts of options, especially about major life decisions like where to pursue education and of what type, where to live, whom to marry and when, when and of what kind of family they should have, and so on, many become afraid that the decision made is not God’s will and that God actually had a better alternative in mind.

It is good to want to seek the Lord’s will in all that is done (Colossians 3:17). We can find examples in the Old Testament of people who sought YHWH’s counsel about specific situations and received specific answers (e.g. 1 Samuel 9:1-21, 23:1-13). It would be easy to see such examples and therefore feel that God has a specific plan for each one of us in terms of our specific decisions and we therefore must pray very hard and often so as to ascertain that specific will.

Yet we do well to notice a distinct difference in communication between then and now: men like David and the prophets received direct and specific answers. God has specifically communicated to us in His Son through the Word found in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-17, Hebrews 1:1-3, Jude 1:3); His communication today is manifest in more subtle ways. If a particular path is absolutely not the Lord’s will, a person will be forbidden it, like Paul going into the hinterland of Anatolia (Acts 16:6-7), or warned off of it, or hindered from it in some way. If a particular life choice is a transgression of God’s will, we can know that in advance because it will be in violation of a command of God as revealed in Scripture (1 John 3:4).

In truth God is not playing games with His people in terms of understanding His will; He is not watching from heaven expecting people to guess which path He has in mind for them and laugh when they choose wrongly. The will of God for us is the same will He had for the Thessalonians: our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3)!

In context Paul is reminding and exhorting the Christians of Thessalonica to continue to pursue the way of Christ and to do so more and more (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 9). He warns them specifically about the danger of porneia, translated as “fornication” in the ASV, “sexual immorality” or just “immorality” in other translations, and best understood as “sexually deviant behavior.” Porneia literally means “that which involves a porne,” and a porne is a prostitute; in the ancient Greek and Roman world it was commonplace for men to cavort with prostitutes and female companions. Such behavior is entirely contrary to the practice of holiness; in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Paul explains why theologically, and here in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 he does so in terms of using the body in holy, clean, and honorable ways, and to not wrong a fellow Christian in these ways by committing adultery with them or with their spouses.

This specific exhortation is no less relevant to life in 21st century America: we live in a land saturated with sexual sin and we all do well to give attention to our sanctification, possessing our own vessel in sanctification and honor, and not in lustful passions (1 Thessalonians 4:4-5). Yet the general principle of God’s will as our sanctification also has much to commend it in terms of the life decisions we make.

God has given everyone gifts or talents; some have more than others, some are quite general and some quite specific, yet all have value (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). God expects believers to use those gifts and talents to advance His purposes to His glory and honor, illustrated in Matthew 25:14-30; Peter exhorts Christians to use their gifts to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Peter 4:10-11). Therefore, God wills for us to live holy lives, which is the definition of sanctification, and He expects us to use all He gives us to His glory and honor, serving one another.

So will God speak to us in a dream and tell us exactly where we should go, whom we should marry, what we should do in our lives, and so on? By no means; God did not provide that specific level of counsel for most everyone even in Biblical times. Instead, God expects for us to make those decisions unto our sanctification and so as to glorify His name. Should a person live in place X or place Y? It is better to consider where sanctification and God’s glory can best be pursued, and ascertain how to live a sanctified life and glorify God while living in place X or Y. Should a person pick career path X or Y? It is better to ascertain where the person’s skills reside so as to best honor and glorify God in their career, how they can pursue sanctification while working in that career, and how they can reflect God in that career. Should a man marry woman X or woman Y, or should a woman marry man X or man Y? It is better to ascertain which person will pursue sanctification themselves and help their spouse pursue sanctification and whether the person wants to glorify and honor God in their life, marriage, and family. In every such circumstance the questions we should ask are not about whether x or y is God’s will, but how we could best pursue sanctification and glorify God in x or y situation. If we can perceive one situation to allow us to pursue sanctification and God’s glory more effectively than another, our decision has been made easier. If we can perceive that we can pursue sanctification and God’s glory in multiple situations, then we should pray for God’s wisdom and make a decision (James 1:5), always knowing that it is better to focus on how to pursue sanctification and God’s glory in our situation than it is to wonder if our situation is the best decision we could make. In the end, pursuing sanctification and God’s glory is always the best decision.

God’s will is for our sanctification. He wants us to live holy lives glorifying Him in all we do. We are called upon to make decisions in light of those imperatives. We will stand before God on the judgment day for those decisions, but God’s concern will be much more about whether and how we pursued sanctification and His glory in our circumstances than the process by which we found ourselves in those circumstances (Romans 14:12). Let us pursue holiness and God’s glory in all of our decisions, and trust that our decisions go well when sanctification and God’s glory are at their center!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Giving Thanks

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We are soon approaching the time when our country observes Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was intended to be a time to reflect and give thanks for all the wonderful blessings we share. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many, it has just turned into an opportunity to eat one or more over-sized meals.

Bible believers recognize that God has never set aside one day for us to give thanks– He intends for believers to be people constantly marked by thankfulness. As Paul indicates, God’s will for us in Christ is to give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18)!

Giving thanks is a humbling experience, for it teaches us how indebted we are to God. If it were not for God’s blessings toward us, we would not have the heavens or the earth (Genesis 1:1-2:4), the opportunity to have association with God through Christ (Romans 5:1-11), the love and comfort of our spiritual family (1 Corinthians 12:12-28), or the hope of eternity beyond this life (John 3:16). If it were not for God, we would not exist (Acts 17:28); without Christ, we would be hopeless, lost entirely in sin, and waiting for condemnation (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:11-12)!

Therefore, when we give thanks, it is hard to be proud or to believe that we are “self-made” people. When we give thanks, we learn again how we are weak and God is strong and how we need to trust Him and lean on Him, and not trust in ourselves (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:9, 12:9-10)!

Giving thanks should also be an encouraging and uplifting experience that should assist us in keeping a proper perspective. It is easy to get discouraged and distressed in our lives, and it is easy to fall into the trap of letting our discouragement distort our perspective in life. But when we give thanks, we are forced to no longer focus on what is going wrong and what we do not have but instead to focus on all the things that God has done for us in this creation and through Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:3). When we consider the great cost of our salvation which God freely paid, it is much easier to trust that God will also be faithful and helpful in the comparatively minor challenges we experience in life (cf. Romans 8:32). When we consider all that God has promised and accomplished, and see what God is doing, we can look with hopeful eyes toward that which God has promised for our future (cf. Romans 8:18). When we stop and realize all of these wonderful things that God has done, is doing, and will do, the “light momentary affliction” we are experiencing will be put into its proper perspective (2 Corinthians 4:17)! When we truly recognize how God loves us, how can we but rejoice in the Lord always (cf. Philippians 4:4)?

It is good and right for us to give thanks during this holiday season– and after this holiday season, and at every opportunity. It is good for us to give thanks lest we begin to take God’s current blessings for granted and succumb to the travails and distress of life. Let us always give thanks for the wonderful blessings of God and strive toward the goal of eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Death

But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).

Death is a “four-letter” word in our society. It is a topic that most people avoid. We all know that it is out there, and we realize in the back of our minds that it will happen to us and the ones we love someday– but we never think that it will be today. But we do not want to think about it at all until it happens, and then we are expected to quickly forget about it and move on. There is no room for death in a society where this life is all that is prized.

Nevertheless, death is a natural process, as natural today as being born and being alive. And we would do well to consider it and be prepared for it.

Some people take the verses above from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 and reason that it is sinful or improper for Christians to grieve and mourn for the dead. That reasoning is inappropriate and quite dangerous. As we will see, we should not mourn the death of a faithful Christian like those who have no hope mourn their dead. Nevertheless, when someone whom we love dies, we suffer the pain of separation. That pain is real and should not be denied. In fact, that pain is quite healthy, for it reminds us that this world has been cursed with death, and that this type of separation is not the ideal at all (cf. Genesis 3:19, Romans 5:12-18). It is another reminder for us that this world is not our ultimate destination, and the pain we experience should lead us to obey God so that we may never again have to suffer the pain of separation and loss (Revelation 21:1-22:6).

It is still true, though, that the Christian should look at death and dying differently than others. The Christian has hope for a future beyond death. His Lord has suffered like he has, and has even tasted death (Hebrews 5:7-8), and God raised Him from the dead in power on the third day (Matthew 28). Death is a powerful force; what man alone can subdue it? Yet, through the firstfruits Jesus Christ, we have the hope of that wonderful final day, on which will come to pass the saying that is written,

Death is swallowed up in victory.
“O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”
The sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law: but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54c-57).

For too many people in this world, death is the end. For the Christian, however, death is only the beginning. When a faithful child of God dies, we mourn and sorrow for our pain at the loss of a beloved friend and brother/sister, but we take comfort in the hope of spending eternity with them before the Father who loves us and the Son who died for us (Revelation 21:1-22:6)!

The somber reality of death is not meant to paralyze us, causing us to constantly fear or rue each passing day. Instead, the reality of death is to be our catalyst for action. No one is guaranteed even the next breath (James 4:14). In an instant, your life, or the life of someone you love, may end. This should lead us to appreciate the blessing and gift of life, and we should refuse to take even one second of it for granted. We can take the best advantage of our lives by living every day as if it were our last– as far as we know, it very well might! Let us appreciate all the gifts that God has given us, especially the gift of His Son. Let us not be the sad souls who put off obeying Jesus one time too many, and meet our God unprepared. Let us no longer try to deny or hide from the reality of death, but live in hope of the resurrection to come!

Ethan R. Longhenry